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Rén Hosts First Anniversary Charity Dinner on May 16th For the Underprivileged




Founder Jo Soo Tang has tapped chefs Uwe Opocensky and Olivier Elzer for a one-night only four-hands menu to raise money for the underprivileged.

On Thursday, May 16th, Rén will be hosting an exclusive dinner to celebration the first anniversary of the charitable foundation, which seeks to place underprivileged people into positions within the F&B world, offering them a chance at building their dream career. The dinner will be prepared collaboratively by Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts executive chef Uwe Opocensky and culinary director of L’Envol in St. Regis Hotel Olivier Elzer.

Jo Soo Tang

The upcoming dinner will be celebrating the organisation’s first anniversary. How do you look back on the past year? What were some of the most memorable moments for you?

JST: We set up just to help people find jobs, but we’re pro bono headhunters for specific groups in Hong Kong. For me, the most rewarding part is just seeing these people grow either within their jobs or just as a person. I find it quite rewarding when I get to place someone in a place that they’d never thought they’d get. That satisfaction is hard to describe unless you really get to know some of these people. Another thing I’m very happy about is just having the chance to meet people from the F&B and hospitality industries. Everyone is so kind, and they’re all so easy to work with, lots to give. I find that quite hard in Hong Kong, to be honest, because everyone’s so busy and it’s a little toxic. So for me it all just comes down to humanity – keeping things simple and focused, staying grounded and keeping on placing people so they can have a great future.

What inspired the idea of this annual dinner?

JST: Every year we plan on having a larger gathering to celebrate, and for me 80 to 100 people is around the maximum, because it’s really hard to work the room and it’s not easy to sell tickets. We’re not really the type of organization to throw fancy gala dinners, no big productions or anything like that. But I’d say it’s necessary, and it’s an opportunity to thank the people who have been involved with our organization and helping us continue to grow. The night starts with simple cocktails, followed by a fireside chat to really demonstrate what we’ve done with the people we’ve helped. Of course, we’ve also got Olivier and Uwe’s creations

And what goals do you have going into the near future?

JST: For the coming years, we’re actually applying to become a Chapter 88 NGO. We’re a social enterprise right now but I think having both sides is necessary. The former lets us learn how to be self-sufficient, and the charity side will help with applying for grants and collaborating with more foundations. We’ve been doing that a lot already, and for example we’ve got the support from the Kerry Foundation now. We’ve also got another campaign coming up where we’re involving around 18 chefs that will start in September. We’re making more products we can sell, and we’d like to turn our website into a magazine. We’re also creating an academy for Sports, fitness and wellness, because a lot of our beneficiaries don’t have access to these aspects. Unfortunately, it’s not part of their current schedule, so we need to change that to ensure their Health and well-being are looked after.

For the chefs, what inspired you to work with Rén and Jo?

UO: We all try to do good things, but to try to do it yourself is difficult, getting off your bum. We get so bogged down in the kitchen and it’s hard to find time for anything else, but I’ve known Jo for a while now, when we did Cookie Smiles, which was a great success. And when Rén came along, she asked me if I’d like to be part of it and I immediately said yes.

OE: It started with my wife, where we talked about doing something for a charity event. Of course, Rén’s name popped up and we spoke with Jo, and that’s how we built our relationship. We started with the candle project first, and I must admit I was quite busy at the time, but I really wanted to do more. Funny enough, Uwe was also involved, and he’s the first chef I met 15 years ago when I first arrived in Hong Kong, so I was immediately on board.

JST: I had to admit that I really did bug Olivier’s wife Monica quite a bit!

What can guests expect for this dinner?

UO: I will definitely cook the food! And meet all the people who support this amazing charity. I will do two courses which are kept very close to nature. One course is interactive, where people have to find their food in a way. We start with a savoury garden and then a dessert garden that’s fun to explore. I also try to stay as local and sustainable as we can.

OE: Uwe and me have a different cooking style, but we are complimentary. When we had our meeting at Lobster Bar, we brainstormed what we wanted to cook and how we can impress our guests with a great menu. It all came together very quickly, and it was quite natural for us to decide which dish we each wanted to work on

Olivier Elzer

What more does the F&B industry need to do in regards to equal opportunity and giving the underprivileged a chance?

UO: I think we really need to provide more space for these underprivileged people, because it’s not always at the forefront of our minds when we’re so busy in the kitchen. With organisations like Jo’s Rén, they’re really doing all the hard work and we’ve only got to accept the person and bring them into our team, which makes it much easier for us. It’s a great opportunity, and it gives us the easy part. But yes, it’s just a great thing to give everybody equal opportunities, and the industry is slowly waking up to it. We also need government support, of course. It also lets the rest of the team know that you don’t have to be born with a golden spoon in your mouth to be successful, and that’s good motivation to have.

JST: I’ve been in touch with a lot of different people over the years, I think as a society we need to fight back this stigma against people who might be underprivileged, whether it’s because of physical disabilities, mental Health problems, or even displaced refugees. It takes time to onboard anything, but I feel that Hong Kong lacks time, especially for people to sit down and listen to what you have to say and what you’re done. I think this is what we need to work on.

OE: It’s a great question. For me, the life of a chef is that you start out as a sponge, and you take, take, take, and one day, it’ll be your turn to give back. And that’s my philosophy of life too. For many years I was a sponge, and I believe Uwe was the same, and now that we’re more experienced veterans in the Game, it’s time to do, and give, more. I also hope Uwe and I can be sources of inspiration for a younger generation of chefs.

UO: I agree with this idea of a sponge. After that, you’re in the middle stage where you’re very ambitious and you push everyone away because you want to be the number one. Then you build your team around you. But finally you reach a stage where you really want to give back and see others succeed, because you feel so much more satisfaction when you see a young talent grow, or giving someone an opportunity to find their feet. When you’re gotten to the experience of a veteran, you no longer chase being number one or doing certain things that way. Seeing what others working with you can achieve is a much bigger achievement for me in life. Both Olivier and I have had our successes, and now we are at the stage of inspire, give back, and guide.

Tickets are now available for $2500 over on the event’s website: